Thursday, February 25, 2010
This leads to the most controversial portion of the bill, the provision that would allow charter schools to own their own buildings. A strong case can be made that charter schools should not be allowed to do this, but allowing them to own buildings after meeting a number of criteria set forth by the state and under the direction of the Minnesota Department of Education, is clearly an improvement over the current situation.
From my perspective, the real problem with this whole set-up is that since the formal tie between school districts and charter schools was broken asunder when charter schools were given the opportunity to "shop" for authorizers and sponsors instead of having to work through the local school boards in which the charter school is located. Ever since, charter schools--and the unelected boards that govern them--have been making decisions with far less scrutiny than that experienced by school boards. This has led to a number of issues with financial mismanagement and the aforementioned building issues. Further, it's hard to say that most charter schools have delivered in terms of academic achievement.
The building ownership issue takes things one step further, as non-elected boards will be making decisions to own buildings without being forced to take the decision to a vote in the manner that a non-charter school district must. Voters in school districts stand as a protection in terms of local building decisions and assume the financial risk of the decision. What will happen in the event a charter school closes and leaves the state with the bill remains to be seen, but it's a question that needs to be answered before the decision on whether or not the building ownership goes forward.
There are other provisions in the bill, particularly one that would allow school districts to take the test scores from charter schools and include them with district scores for AYP purposes.
Link to SF 2716: http://https://www.revisor.mn.gov/revisor/pages/search_status/status_detail.php?b=Senate&f=SF2716&ssn=0&y=2010
The House dove into several bills, one of which would allow school districts to charge charter schools and private schools for unreimbursed transportation costs. While private schools receive revenue and charter schools receive the full basic formula amount (which includes money for transportation) to assist with transportation costs, often times the costs incurred by school districts in providing transportation to private schools and charter schools exceed the revenue set aside for it. Representative Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis) is the chief author of HF 2910, a bill that would allow (but not force) school districts to charge for the excess cost of providing transportation to private and charter schools.
This bill clearly rankles the charter school and private school community, which is understandable. But the fact remains that there is a funding gap between the services provided by public schools in terms of transportation provided to private and charter schools. The issue that I brought up in my testimony for the bill was that this is another issue that could have been more easily solved if the categorical formula for transportation had been retained instead of rolled into the basic formula in 1995. The final chapter hasn't been written on this bill and it will be interesting to see how the discussion continues.
Link to HF 2910: http://https://www.revisor.mn.gov/revisor/pages/search_status/status_detail.php?b=House&f=HF2910&ssn=0&y=2010
Representative Mark Buesgens' (R-Jordan) HF 3003 was also discussed. Buesgens' bill would distribute revenue to schools based on pupils served as opposed to school districts on the basis of resident pupils. This would provide the $29 per pupil unit that each school district received last year to charter schools as well as school district. Districts with high numbers of charter school students would see their share of permanent school funding reduced. The revenue shifts for school districts is quite small except for Minneapolis, which would lose eleven dollars per pupil.
Link to HF 3003: http://https://www.revisor.mn.gov/revisor/pages/search_status/status_detail.php?b=House&f=HF3003&ssn=0&y=2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Anyway, back in zip code 55155 on Planet Earth, it was a quiet day at the Legislature. A number of education committees met, but most of the work was of a perfunctory nature. The bills that received the greatest amount of discussion were HF 3043, authored by Representative Jeremy Kalin (DFL-North Branch), a bill that provides for computer-adaptive assessments in reading and math that was heard in the House E-12 Policy Committee Wednesday morning. There was a lot of discussion of the bill and the bill is going to get more attention before a final decision is made as to whether or not to include it in this year's package of education policies. It was a part of the House version of the omnibus E-12 education bill last year, but the Senate had no comparable position and the provision was not included in the conference committee report that was sent to the Governor.
Here is a link to HF 3043. Note that there is a bill summary on the status page for the bill.
HF 3043: http://https//www.revisor.mn.gov/revisor/pages/search_status/status_detail.php?b=House&f=HF3043&ssn=0&y=2010
The other bill that was the subject of spirited discussion was Representative Andy Welti's (DFL-Plainview) HF 664, a bill that would create a model mental health curriculum for school districts. This bill is not a mandate that schools implement a mental health curriculum, but instead simply encouragement that schools do and instructs the Minnesota Department of Education, in consultation with mental health professionals, to put assist districts in putting together age-appropriate instructional materials dealing with mental health issues for use if the district chooses to offer courses relating to the subject.
Mental health issues are always a touchy subject in the education community. I don't think there's any disagreement that programs that pay attention to the mental health of students are important, but there's friction over whether school districts truly have any standing in these matters or if parents alone should be the primary arbiter in instances relating to their children's mental health. I don't believe the Welti bill steps over any line of parental control, as it merely encourages that school districts offer a mental health curriculum and there is no change in how the identification of children with mental health issues is handled. There is concern that there are not sufficient personnel resources at the Minnesota Department of Education to put together the model curriculum, as continued cuts to the department over the past two decades have created a manpower shortage there.
Here is a link to HF 664. Note, as was the case with HF 3043, a bill summary can be accessed from the status page.
HF 664: http://https//www.revisor.mn.gov/revisor/pages/search_status/status_detail.php?b=House&f=HF0664&ssn=0&y=2009
Crowded Capitol. Although the committee process was quiet today, a number of citizen-lobbying groups had their "day on the hill." Bikers (as in motorcycle riders) were there in their leathers. The Farmers' Union was in attendance. Students from the private college system were there. County library interests were also out in force.
When all of these groups are there at once, it makes me think "Are they all working on the same bill?" I'm trying to think of a bill that the four mentioned groups could agree upon. I suppose the bikers would agree to wear helmets only in people using the library had to use them as well. If teaching ag classes at the private colleges was proposed, that's something that the Farmers' Union could get behind. I'm not sure if bikers would agree to use ethanol in their "hogs," but the Farmers' Union would probably like to sell their corn for fuel as opposed to using it to feed their hogs. It can be a fun exercise, but I worry that one of the wild-eyed possibilities that rolls through my mind might actually by a real bill. Truth, after all, is stranger than fiction.
Trivia Answer. Yes, 1960's musiphiliacs. "Turn Down Day" was the second hit from the folkie band Cyrkle. Their first hit, of course, was "Red Rubber Ball," written by Paul Simon (of Simon and Garfunkel, not the former US Senator from Illinois).
Here are the lyrics to "Turn Down Day." Try not to hum it for the rest of the day, but it's an extremely addicting little ditty.
Turn Down Day:
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I heard from several folks regarding the bill wondering if the bill had any chance of passing and what Elk River was thinking in drafting and introducing the bill. This bill, as is the case with any bill that requires a state appropriation, faces a steep challenge. As for the reasoning, like many SEE districts (especially those that are growing steadily), Elk River has a heavy debt service load and this load has become heavier as the value of the debt service equalization program has dwindled. The heavy burden borne by taxpayers in districts with high debt service effort often prevents these districts from generating considerable levels of revenue through the referendum levy. In fact, districts with high debt service effort are among the most tax-sensitive districts in the state.
SF 2331 helps make this case very clearly and the witnesses from Elk River were able to make that point in their testimony today. Further, the bill really got the committee engaged in discussing how property wealth disparities cause considerable differences in revenue. So, even though Elk River is not a SEE member, the bill they introduced produced some of the best discussion of SEE issues thus far in the session. Given the condition of the state budget, it is highly unlikely that state resources will exist to make considerable progress on equity issues this session, but that shouldn't stop any district or organization concerned about funding equity to take its foot of the pedal.
The House K-12 Funding Division heard Representatives Marsha Swails' (DFL-Woodbury) and Carol McFarlane's (R-White Bear Lake) HF 2840, this year's bill that is trying to create an environment that would encourage greater cooperation and shared services between units of government. Like last year's approach in the House, there is nothing mandatory forced on school districts in this bill. Unlike last year's bill, this bill creates a task force that represents a number of governmental units (both the labor and management sides) that will look at opportunities for greater shared services and the impediments to cooperation that currently exist.
The Senate will likely be discussing similar legislation as the session wears on and while it may not contain the mandated approach advocated last session, it will be likely different than the House version. Stay tuned.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
In other big legislative doings, the Legislature passed the re-instatement of the General Assistance Medical Care program that the Governor line-item vetoed from the 2009 Omnibus Health and Human Services bill at the end of the last legislative session. I don't know what the land-speed record for a veto is, but the Governor's veto of this bill probably earned at least the Bronze medal. One of the first orders of legislative business this coming week will be an attempted override of that veto, but I would be surprised if the override attempt will be successful.
Needless to say, we've moved to the big kids' section of the midway and it's going to resemble Mr. Toad's Wild Ride from this point forward.
Speaking of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I got a phone call early on Friday morning from Denny Carlson informing me that I was quoted in the StarTribune. I went online and there I was talking about how SEE would oppose efforts to eliminate the referendum cap. I really found the story to be well-timed, seeing that just a day before I had expressed my expectation that we would be seeing this item discussed in the near future. While a new bill has not been introduced yet this session, bills that propose that the referendum cap be eliminated were introduced last year and those bills could always be heard again.
"The Song Remains the Same" isn't just the name of Led Zeppelin's live album/concert film, it's also pretty much the story of this issue since the referendum cap was first insituted in 1991. And it goes the same way for both sides. About 10 districts in the state want the referendum cap eliminated and the rest of us don't and the arguments have remained the same. If anything has changed, it's probably the fact that less districts want uncapped referendum capability than did back in 1988 when the Skeen lawsuit was filed.
I get the fact that some districts still believe getting rid of the referendum cap is a good idea that is useful to them. But the referendum, even though it is at its all-time high in total revenue generated at slightly over $800 million, is probably decreasing in popularity among districts. It's not that districts don't want access to referendum authority, it's just that this horse has probably been ridden as hard as it can be ridden. Further, if the cap were eliminated, it would give legislators the opportunity to say "Well, you can always pass as much referendum as you'd like." As stated above, that system would work for about 10 school districts.
Mid-morning on Friday, I got a call from WCCO radio asking me if I'd like to be on Dom Giardano's show on Friday afternoon. I responded that I'd go on the show, but I told the producer that I wondered why they'd want to discuss this issue on The Good Neighbor. The producer told me she thought it was a hot issue. I replied that--in terms I've used earlier in this entry--that the issue is less hot now than it was in 1991. I know that many of you listened to my approximately 3 minutes on the air with Giardano and I hope my points came across fairly well.
One point I wanted to make clear in the interview is that 5 of the 6 school districts grandfathered above the current referendum cap have capital projects levy, a couple of which are almost $700 per pupil. These levies are not subject to the referendum cap and aren't unequalized. While 25 districts (and several SEE districts) have capital projects levies, from the statewide statistics, it's obvious that property wealth plays a great role in who has these levies.
Needless to say, I don't think my interview threatened the Tiger Woods' coverage earlier on Friday, but it's always nice to be on the radio and I did enjoy the opportunity to state our side of the story.
Norm Draper has been writing some great education stuff (including the stories that don't quote me) thus far this sesssion, including Friday's article on the referendum cap. Great to see.
Referendum Cap Article: http://http://www.startribune.com/politics/state/84750237.html?elr=KArks:DCiUBDia_nDaycUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU
Monday, February 15, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Out-of-the-gate, the Governor's State of the State address contained good news for schools. The Governor explicitly stated that he will not cut revenue streams related directly to the classroom. What that means remains to be seen (and will be seen when the Governor releases his budget next Monday), but by pointing this out in this address, my guess is it means the glass is at least 90% (or maybe 73%) full. Not mincing words, it's great!
The Governor provided some very concise policy proposals relating to education that he believes would improve the system, especially for schools with achievement levels lagging behind the rest of the state. Included in these proposals are:
- Giving the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul full control over their cities' school systems. If that were not to pass, the Governor would create an Office of Turnaround Schools in the Minnesota Department of Education to take over schools not reaching prescribed levels of achievement.
- The "Teacher Transformation Act" that was proposed, but not passed last session.
- Reform of the teacher tenure system, providing for tenure reviews of teacher performance every five years.
I am sure the Governor will make more suggestions as the session wears on, but he once again showed his interest in education policy and a commitment to protecting classrooms in his message. Again, we're a long ways from here to there and we'll see how things hold up as the session continues.
I want to put in a good word for Lori Grivna, former Mounds View school board member who is currently serving on the Governor's staff as an education polciy advisor and liaison to the education community. Ms. Grivna has kept the education community in the loop throughout the Governor's budget development process and has worked hard to make sure the Governor is aware of our concerns. So thank you Lori.
Here is a link to the video presentation and print version of the Governor's State of the State Address: http://http://www.governor.state.mn.us/index.htm
More Charter School Kerfuffling. Is "kerfuffling" a word? Well, it is now. This time it's about segregation and some pretty solid evidence that the charter school movement is contributing to greater racial isolation in Minnesota and other states. I have linked an article written by Beth Hawkins from MN Post at the bottom of this item that outlines the issue. It's hard to argue with Minnesota Charter School Association Executive Director that there's something different about the nature of self-selected racial isolation that accompanies school choice and racial isolation that occurs as a result of geography or economic development patterns. But what about the results of racial isolation, regardless of its roots? That seems to be the more important aspect of the issue and it will be interesting to see how this issue plays out in the future.
MN Post Charter School Story Link: http://http//www.minnpost.com/stories/2010/02/11/15816/charter_school_report_finds_widespread_segregation_including_in_minnesotaJanuary 15 Deadline Bill. State Senator Tarryl Clark (DFL-St. Cloud) and State Representative Larry Haws (DFL-St. Cloud) have introduced legislation that would provide school districts that do not settle with their teachers by the January 15 deadline an opportunity to re-coup up to 50 percent of the aid penalty if they can show the district is suffering from financial hardship.
The January 15 deadline has turned out to be pretty much a bad idea. It's pretty much a "one size, fits all" solution to a very complex issue that varies greatly from district-to-district. While this bill--SF 2569/HF 2890--doesn't totally eliminate the difficulties of the deadline, it would at least grant a partial reprieve to districts that are experiencing dire budget issues and refusing to settle at a level that basically ensures on-going budget migraines.
This is something to watch as we move forward. There is still talk about mandate relief to help in these times of tight budgets and this is clearly a mandate that merits discussion in view of the problems the state, and by extension local school districts, is facing in terms of revenue availability. The January 15 deadline was suspended in 2003 for the bargaining round pertaining to the 2004-2005 biennium and the situation is worse now than it was then, giving suspension of the deadline--even after the fact--a considerable level of merit.
SF 2569/HF 2890 Link: http://https//www.revisor.mn.gov/revisor/pages/search_status/status_detail.php?b=Senate&f=SF2569&ssn=0&y=2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The subject discussed at House K-12 Funding Division meeting was alternative education, with a presentation by the Legislative Auditor's office of their recent study "Alternative Education Programs." It was a very instructive meeting and the findings of the Legislative Auditor bear out much of what most have believed over the years in that alternative education works. While test scores in alternative programs still lags, growth models are showing that students in alternative programs--especially those receiving targeted services--often gain more than a year's worth of academic progress.
While the report does point out the need for increased monitoring of alternative education programs, the report left little doubt that alternative education programs are extremely valuable for a number of students (15% of the state's total student count is involved with alternative education for at least part of the school day). One of the report's recommendation is to allow school districts to offer targeted services outside of alternative settings. That would provide more instructional time for students who are at academic risk. Clearly, the need also exists to re-visit the 2003 decision to greatly reduce extended time revenue. If we are going to raise test scores, more instructional time-on-task should be made available to students. Hopefully, this report will help make that case easier to sell.
Kudos again to Judy Randall, Evaluation Manager at the Office of the Legislative Auditor, for putting together another solid report relating to an education program.
Alternative Education Programs Link: http://http://www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/PED/2010/alted.htm
Monday, February 08, 2010
The topic for the breakfast was "Benchmarking Teacher Quality for Policymakers in Minnesota." Dr. Karen Seashore Lewis, the Robert H. Beck Professor of Ideas in Education at the University of Minnesota, served as moderator for the session with a panel of experts consisting of Dr. Misty Sato, Assistant Professor of Teacher Development and Science Education at the University of Minnesota; Peter Hutchinson, President of the Bush Foundation; Dr. Valeria Silva, Superintendent of St. Paul Schools; Matt Kramer, President of Teach for America; and Garnet Franklin, Education Issues Specialist at Education Minnesota.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Thursday saw the beginning of this edition of the Minnesota Legislature and things got off to a smooth start. The biggest item of business was the massive number of bill introductions in both houses of the Legislature. The House saw 329 new bill introductions while the Senate saw 193. A lot of those bills are capital projects that are being heard for possible inclusion in the 2010 bonding bill.
There isn't much to report on the education front in regard to these bills introductions. Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) has re-introduced the "New Minnesota Miracle" as HF 2431. Representative Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) has introduced HF 2508, which would formalize the school payment shift and early property tax recognition shift enacted as part of the Governor's unallotment measures taken just before the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year. There are currently no Senate companions to these bills.
SEE will obviously have great interest in both of these bills. We have worked hard on the "New Minnesota Miracle" and although revenue to implement this bill immediately clearly isn't available--and probably won't be for several years--it is crucial that the education community continue to make the case that the level and distribution of the current education funding formula is not sufficient to meet the needs of Minnesota's student population.
Representative Garofalo's bill would probably help make the best of a bad situation. No one likes funding shifts, but they are preferable to base reductions. Further, putting the shifts into statute would provide school districts with stronger planning ability. My guess is decisions on the Garofalo bill will not take place until the waning days of session, which should occur just about the same time frame as Kate will decide between Jack and Sawyer on "Lost."
Another bill of interest that has been introduced is HF 2645 (Greiling)/SF 2328 (Bonoff), a bill that would repeal MS 127A.46, the statutory provision that requires the Governor to withhold payments to school districts with sufficient fund balances as defined by law. This bill will also likely be part of discussions as the final budget balancing package is put together.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Actually, the upcoming Legislative Session reminds me more of the movie Ground Hog's Day. Last session, we woke up to enormous budget problems. This year, we're waking up to. . .more enormous budget problems. Next year I'm guessing we'll be waking up once again to. . . enormous budget problems if recent projections remain accurate. My only hope is that the session this year ends with as happy an ending as that movie, although I doubt that we will witness much comedy--at least intentional comedy--during the 2010 Legislative Session.
Actually, I probably shouldn't be so gloomy (at least about the long term). The national fourth quarter economic growth figures reported an initial estimate of 5.7% growth. Obviously, with the economy being down so long, the first lurches upward are likely to be significant, but I'll take any growth at this point. While job growth remains uninspiring, a recent story on MPR reported that online job postings rose by nearly 9,000 listings between December and January, the largest increase since 2006. That same story reported that residential building permit requests are up from last year, but still dawdling well behind the halcyon housebuilding days of 2005 and 2006.
MPR Story: http://http//minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/02/01/jobopenings/Before
I close off the ground hog theme, I nearly drove off the road this morning when I heard that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) actually lodged a complaint regarding the treatment of Punxsutawney Phil and suggested that a robot be used instead of a live ground hog for the annual media event surrounding Ground Hog's Day. PETA believes "it's unfair to keep the animal in captivity and subject him to the huge crowds and bright lights that accompany tens of thousands of revelers" to Punxsutawney every February 2nd. William Deeley, the head honcho of the club that sponsors the annual event says that Phil is "being treated better than the average kid in Pennsylvania," which means Phil's got it great or it really stinks to be a kid in Pennsylvania. At any rate, I think Phil probably enjoys lounging in his ground hog bachelor pad more than being pursued by the predators who'd be trying to order the Ground Hog Extra Value Meal in the wild. Further, I don't the the "P" in PETA will ever stand for "public relations." My suggestion to PETA is to head down to Haiti and help some of the Haitian wildlife displaced by the earthquake and while they are there, put their collective shoulder to the wheel for the people that live there as well.
Precinct Caucuses Tonight. I hope many of your will be attending your precinct caucuses this evening. Whether you're a Republican, Democrat, or Independenter (they need to have a contest to determine what they should call members of the Independence Party), it's important to have your voice heard and cast your vote in the gubernatorial straw ballot. Convention season comes early this year, as all three parties will have their endorsed candidates determined (if the delegates necessary for an individual endorsement can be garnered by a single candidate at the respective state conventions) by May. So go out and have some fun!